The Tokyo District Court ruled Tuesday in favor of the religious group Aleph, formerly known as Aum Shinrikyo, in a lawsuit Aleph had filed against the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and a former head of the Metropolitan Police Department.
Aleph had demanded ¥50 million in damages and an apology for the MPD’s announcement in 2010 that Aum Shinrikyo was responsible for the 1995 attempted murder of the national police chief. The court ordered the metropolitan government, which has jurisdiction over the MPD, to pay Aleph ¥1 million in damages and to offer a written apology from the Tokyo governor.
Because the MPD made the announcement despite the fact that no people had been indicted and that the statute of limitations had expired, its act constituted a grave illegality, as the court pointed out. By making the announcement, the MDP ignored and violated the basic principle of the criminal procedure — an act that erodes the public’s trust in it.
Aum Shinrikyo carried out a sarin nerve gas attack in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, in June 1994, killing seven people and injuring some 660 people, and another sarin attack on the Tokyo subway system in March 1995, killing 13 people and injuring more than 6,000 people. Aum leader Shoko Asahara and 12 other Aum members are on death row for these crimes, but this does not justify the MDP’s action. The court was right to denounce it as violating the principle that one is considered innocent until proven guilty and undermining the basic principle of the nation’s criminal justice system. The MDP should take the ruling seriously and refrain from appealing it.
The MDP announcement concerned the attempted murder of National Police Agency Commissioner General Takaji Kunimatsu. When he left his apartment in Arakawa Ward, Tokyo, on the morning of March 30, 1995, he was shot three times and seriously injured. Although the MPD arrested four Aum members in July 2004, the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office did not indict any of them because of lack of evidence.
But on March 30, 2010, the day that the statute of limitations ran out, the head of the MDP’s Public Security Bureau released an investigative report at a news conference that said the attempted murder was an act of terrorism systematically carried out by Aum followers under the will of Aum leader Asahara. The MDP put the report on its website for about one month.
During the trial, the MPD refrained from insisting that the report was based on facts. Instead it said Aleph has no right to seek damages as it is not the same, legally, as Aum Shinrikyo. But that contention contradicted the fact that Aleph is officially regarded as the organization that succeeded Aum Shinrikyo and is under surveillance by the Public Security Intelligence Agency.
The MPD should investigate why it failed to solve the case and who allowed the Public Safety Bureau chief to make the announcement, and then make public its findings.